What is Adaptive Cruise Control?

You can start relaxing on a road trip when you’ve escaped city traffic and reach a stretch of relatively open road that allows you to turn on the cruise control, set a speed, and give your right foot a bit of a break while the car maintains your set speed.

Honda Adaptive Cruise Control

Nowadays, many new vehicles can take things even further with adaptive cruise control (ACC). Other names for ACC include Dynamic Cruise Control, Intelligent Cruise Control, and Active Cruise Control, but they all perform the same function.

How Does Adaptive Cruise Control Work?

Adaptive cruise control uses radar, lasers, cameras, or a combination of any of those items to calculate your surroundings. Its sensors and processors judge what the car in front of you is doing and regulate your car in relation to the one in front of you to maintain a safe distance, braking when they slow down and accelerating when they do, up to the set limit. Soon, LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging), which is a pulsed laser to create a more comprehensive 3D “map” of the car’s surroundings, will also be used to analyze the car’s surroundings, but no car in America is equipped with LiDAR just yet.

Adaptive cruise control lands on the list of advanced driving assistance systems (ADAS), which takes some of the burdensome driving tasks and puts the vehicle in charge.

Various Types of ACC

Adaptive cruise control comes in various stages of autonomy and sophistication, mainly relating to operating at lower speeds in heavy traffic.

  • Some vehicles, such as the 2021 Ford F-Series Super Duty, will only work at relatively higher speeds; once the car slows down to a certain speed, the ACC system will turn itself off, at which time the driver must take the reins. This type of ACC relies on the driver to bring the vehicle to a complete stop and will emit warning sounds and lights on the dashboard to prompt the driver to take action.
  • Other systems will bring the vehicle to a complete stop but then turn itself off. Once traffic begins to flow again, you must turn the system on so that it reengages. The 2021 Jeep Wrangler features this type of ACC.
  • The most advanced systems feature Stop and Go functions, where the system can stop the car entirely and then reengage itself. Some systems allow you to stop for a few seconds; after that, it disengages, while other systems allow for stops of up to 30 seconds.

ACC Paired with Other Capabilities

Some automakers combine ACC systems with features like road sign recognition or GPS navigation to tell the driver what the speed limit is on the road they are driving on and self-regulate to not go above it. Other systems will recognize curves on the road or the turn to get on a freeway interchange and automatically adjust the car’s speed to accommodate.

ACC can also be paired with lane-centering technology to offer a more automated driving experience, as with Hyundai’s Highway Driving Assist, or even hands-off driving for brief periods on designated highways. You’ll find this feature on GM vehicles equipped with Super Cruise.

Summary

All adaptive cruise control systems require the driver to be fully engaged with their attention on the road, ready to take over at any moment. There are vehicles in the pipeline that allow the driver to divert their attention for brief periods, but none are for sale in the United States at the time of this writing.